Friday, February 12, 2010
Thanks to the Grateful Dead's longtime office manager, the band's archives are copious and will be housed at the University of California at Santa Cruz. There are scholars who study the band and have been mocked and derided by politicians for it. The Dead's organization is now being hailed as the business paradigm for the 21st century. Practices that are second nature to the Dead are now embraced by big corporations as well as indie musicians. The Atlantic's article quotes he band’s lyricist, John Perry Barlow, who became an Internet guru. As early as 1994, the band was using their philosophy to embrace new technology.
Writing in Wired in 1994, Barlow posited that in the information economy, “the best way to raise demand for your product is to give it away.” As Barlow explained to me: “What people today are beginning to realize is what became obvious to us back then—the important correlation is the one between familiarity and value, not scarcity and value. Adam Smith taught that the scarcer you make something, the more valuable it becomes. In the physical world, that works beautifully. But we couldn’t regulate [taping at] our shows, and you can’t online. The Internet doesn’t behave that way. But here’s the thing: if I give my song away to 20 people, and they give it to 20 people, pretty soon everybody knows me, and my value as a creator is dramatically enhanced. That was the value proposition with the Dead.” The Dead thrived for decades, in good times and bad. In a recession, Barnes says, strategic improvisation is more important then ever. “If you’re going to survive this economic downturn, you better be able to turn on a dime,” he says. “The Dead were exemplars.” It can be only a matter of time until Management Secrets of the Grateful Dead or some similar title is flying off the shelves of airport bookstores everywhere.
Most of the archives will be posted online. They are hoping that Deadheads and others will add to the colossal amount of information and material the band has amassed. Anyone/company who wants to know how to gain fans, keep them interested, interact with them and also be profitable should look to these archives. This should be required viewing for CEOs.
The New York Historical Society will offer the first glimpse of the archives in an exhibit there from March 5th through July 4th. Along with displays of concert tickets, posters and fan mail, the exhibit will focus on the band's business savvy and refusal to adopt the same working model as the major record labels.